From the nephew, regarding a Magic the Gathering card I offered him.

From: Nephew
Sent: Monday, February 20, 2006 5:09 PM
To: Tato
Subject: Re: Hey dude.

yeah trade? my internet has been down so i havent been able to send any one amy mail 4 a while. so what u want 4 it k.g2g bye

My response (only slightly edited.)

OK. I'm going to seem old and adulty to you, but I have to say that I hate chatspeek. Chatspeek is what I call that style of using "4" instead of "for" and "u" instead of "you"; ignoring capitalization, and disregarding grammar and spelling. You used it in your emails to me.

y, unkl tato? whats rong w it?

On the one hand, I get that it's important for any generation to invent its own style of communication as part of its sense of identity. I get that. Every generation does it, much to the consternation of their elders. We did it. Your generation is the first to go through adolescence with chat and cell text. Chat and text needs to be informal, so you want to be quick and easy; to try and make it as fast and seamless as a spoken conversation. Thus, chatspeek. Cool, I get that. But...

That only works in chat.

Allow me to lay out 3 big reasons why:

1. It says "I'm too busy for you."
In an email, where speed and efficiency are less critical than texting, chatspeek works against you. It reads like you don't really have the time for the other person, i.e. that you've got more important things going on. Kind of like "iv got only 2 secs for ths email. heres what i want kthxbye." If you're trying to be a good friend, or ask for something, the reader's thinking "I'm not even worth the time to spell? And you want what from me?" You're going to make less headway with people who think you don't really care about them.

2. The reader asks "Does he know any better?"
Language is one of those giant social agreements--like manners--that has a baseline. In language that baseline is spelling and grammar. If you fall below that baseline by using bad spelling and grammar, it could be because either you're uneducated and don't know any better, or because you're just being casual. And while I will give you the benefit of the doubt, not everyone will. Other people may just think you don't know any better, and they'll treat you worse for it.

3. Communication benefits from accuracy and redundancy.
This is deeper, but important enough to say. And I know it's oversimplified. You can use language to either be expressive or communicative. When you're trying to express something, like writing a poem or a rich story, you can use ambiguity to your advantage. One phrase can have many meanings. But when you're trying to communicate thoughts accurately, like in an email or letter, ambiguity can muddy your message. As you get older and wiser and you want to communicate complex thoughts about the complex world we live in, you'll need that accuracy in your language.

The particular habit of chatspeek's reducing words to as few letters as possible has communication risks. In a word with three letters, when one letter gets mistyped, you're able to figure out what it was by the context of the other letters. When the whole word is a letter, you have to infer meaning from the context of the message, and that's not always possible. One typo can break or change your meaning. So, in general, when you increase the letters-to-meaning efficiency in a language, you make it harder to recover from errors. Language needs all that extra "noise" to account for inevitable errors. Chatspeek is too "efficient" in this way.

+ o ya whn u dv8 from teh baseline it tkes lnger 2 deci4, = pain in teh s.

So in short, be in control of your language. It’s a tool. Get to know what style works best in which medium and for which people: chatspeek only for chat rooms and text messages with friends, and keep a more careful style for school work and email. Especially with Uncle Tato, who holds the Angel of Despair as ransom.

OK, on to your actual questions...

Scaring kids is so much fun.

I work with children, ages 10 to 14, in a Fritids-klub1 in Denmark. I used to spend quite some time playing RPG with the kids, but since I have been elevated to boss-hood I haven't had as much time as I used to. One thing I still do, though, is participate in the annual summer camp. And during those four days I do my very best to scare the kids witless.

I have a range of little stories to tell them, modified to match the surroundings; never very bloody or supernatural, always close enough to reality to be really creepy. A couple of years ago we (some 36 kids and 6 pedagogues) went to Sweden, to Olufström in Blekinge. Lots of big trees, not very many houses; very dark at night and weird nature-sounds all around. There were rocky pastures lined with fences built of rocks and stones, and there was a large lake for swimming and canoeing. To our suburban kids this was a very alien experience. So, naturally, around the campfire at night, I told the following two tales:

The Ghosts in the Stones
When the Swedish farmers in these parts began farming the land, they cut down trees and dug up roots. The clearings they created were to be their fields, but when they started to plough the soil, big rocks surfaced. So they dragged and carried the rocks to the edges of the fields, and put them down. As more stones and rocks were ploughed up, dry stone walls rose around the fields.
Ploughing, sowing, and harvesting was hard work; dragging and heaving the rocks made it so much harder, and the farmers literally worked themselves to death. As they died, falling on top of the stones by the stone walls, their souls became trapped in the rocks. Hundreds of farmers died this way, and at night you can hear them tapping, always seeking to come back into the world of the living.

The Fishermen
Not all the people living in the woods were farmers. Along the system of lakes and streams lived fishermen, who earned their livelihood by going out on the lakes in rickety boats to catch fish. Even in the icy cold of winter they would venture out on the ice, risking their lives to feed their families. Ever so often the boats would sink, or the ice would give way, drowning the hapless men in the cold, deep lakes.
During summer, at night, the ghosts of the fishermen drag their ethereal bodies from the cold waters of the lakes, onto the cliffs still warm from the sun. There they will call softly to passers by, and if you go near them they will take you down with them, drowning you in the black water.

Now all I had to do was wait until the last night of our camp. By now the kids were too scared to leave the safety of the campsite at night, but on the last night they had to: we arranged a cosy walk in the woods - compulsory, of course - in small groups of four or five kids, and one adult. There was a well-trodden path around some large cliffs, not far from the camp, and the groups were supposed to stroll along the path in a leisurely manner. Flashlights were allowed, since all they really do, is make the darkness darker and more menacing.

A couple of the adults, who were alledgedly staying behind to warm cocoa for the returning heroes, were (you guessed it) in fact hiding out in the woods. There were splashes and soft voices calling from the lake, and there were repeated tapping on the stone walls which ran along the path. And pretty soon there were screaming and crying kids all over the place! Poor darlings.

Of course there was a downside to all this merriment: the kids refused to go to sleep in their own tents, and piled up in the big kitchen tent. Having so many giggling and half-scared kids in one place spells trouble, so we, the grown-ups, had to stay up very late to stop fights and arguments. It was totally worth it, though.

The kids talked about it for ages after we got home, and they were constantly begging for more stories. But there is a time and a place for everything. Come July we're off again...

Back at work after taking Tuesday off, sick. I woke up yesterday with the shakes and a wicked cough. I coughed all night, and only around 0400 did I find the right cocktail of decongestants and lozenges to allow me to sleep. I spent the day lazing around the house and hacking. With my lungs, not with 1337 skillz.

This morning I felt little better. I coughed a lot last night, but I managed to sleep better. Today's problem was a massive headache. I dosed up with some Excedrin and drove to work.

This morning I was forewarned by a co-worker that our PHB is on his throne. He's been calling people over to bitch about this or that miniscule, capricious, arbitrary issue-of-the-day. Now I have that to look forward to. I just want to crawl into bed and never get up. I may have a touch of depression.

I watched the last disc of Battlestar Galactica season 2.0 yesterday. I also watched about 20 episodes of Spongebob Squarepants and the first hour or so of L.A. Confidential. Being sick does wonders for one's ability to watch TV. If I could figure out a way to make money of feeling sorry for myself and watching the tube, I'd be a zillionaire.

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